Of Buddhas and Arahants

Someone asked a question in facebook

Can someone enlighten me? Arhat in Theravada achieved almost to Buddhahood while in Mahayana they still need to take the route of the Boddhisatva to attain Buddhahood. Does attaining arhat in Mahayana be able for the arhat to have the option of not taking rebirth or reincarnation.

My reply below (corrected for grammar)

Buddhas and Arahants realises the same Truth and attains the same Nibbana, but they differ in terms of their ability.

Consider a swimmer and a swimming coach. Both a swimmer and a swimming coach can swim, but a coach also has the ability to teach others how to swim.

However, knowing that a person is a swimmer speaks nothing about his intention or ability to teach others to swim. A swimmer might well be a swimming coach as well!

An arahant is no longer subject to the cycle of birth and deaths driven by greed, hatred and delusion. This is true regardless of the “yana” or tradition.

Should a person such as an arahant be moved by compassion to guide and teach others, then such an arahant may take on whatever forms needed to teach. On the surface, it may appear like the arahant has taken rebirth like everyone else, but it differs in that, such reappearance is not driven by defilements but motivated by compassion!

Consider a prison with inmates. They are not there by choice, although in a way, they are there due to choices they have made. Then there are those who go to do prison counseling. They are there by choice and not through their misdeeds; they are there out of compassion to help counsel the inmates.

The inmates cannot choose when to leave while the counselors are free to move around the blocks and when their sessions are over, they leave the prison until there is opportunity to counsel again.

Samsara is like the prison, unenlightened ones the inmates, arahants are those who are free of the prison. Like the counselors, there are arahants who voluntarily go back to the prison to provide counsel.

In the Mahayana tradition, we honour these Arahants as Bodhisattvas (Awaken / Enlighten Sentient beings) for they themselves having awakened 覺(自)有情, are taking that step to 覺(他)有情 awaken others by teaching the Dhamma!

Truly, they 自利利他 are of welfare and benefit to themselves and others! They are indeed 大人 Mahasattvas Great Beings! _/|\_


So would you like to be totally free of stress, worry and suffering? Are ready to love and care for others with no strings attached?

Do something worthwhile in life, be a Buddha! 😀

The Kind of Student I Was … and the Wonderful Teachers I Had!

Back in secondary school, there was one time we had art class and the first assignment was to make our own art folder.  We were given a large A3 vanguard sheet and the assignment was to cut out a template, fold it into a folder and decorate the exterior with a designs of shapes.

One possible design would be

Not Van Gogh or Picasso, but it’s good enough.

Below is the folder design I submitted.  My teacher rejected my folder initially dismissing it as stripes and not shapes.  I reasoned that my folder design consist of blue rectangles.

I carried the only art folder with stripes for the year … … I mean blue rectangles! :p

Thank you dear teachers, for not forcing your students to conform into model answers. ^.^

I Cannot Do It Yet So I Am Not Learning It

Just the other day, I was talking to a Dharma class student  and he was telling me that things are stressful at work.  I mentioned to him about how our last Group Practise* session was on the quality of Patience, the Perfection of Patience or Forebearance, and that he should have attended.  His reply was that he did not attend it precisely because he cannot do it yet**!

I really do not know to laugh or to cry.  Why do people cling onto such an obstinate and obsolete view that you have to be good at something before you attend the Dharma classes or Group Practises.  This is ABSURD!!

This reminds me of the time when an aunty tells me that her son cannot become a monk because he still have defilements.  I’m like … thinking “Duh!  If he is perfectly free from defilements, he wouldn’t need to be a monk, now would he?”

It is an upside down view that people seem to have and does not help anyone here.  We should strive to be more energetic in our learnings and practices!

Take Away Piece

It is precisely because you do not know about something, that you go attend a class to learn it.

It is precisely because you have not mastered it that you go attend a regular Group Practise* in order to master and perfect it.



If someone ask you do something you do not know, that is for you to learn.


If someone ask you to do something you already know, that is for you to practise.


If noone ask you to do anything, and you do it, that is revision.

* Group Practise

Time for some blatant advertisement.  ^_^

Join us at SBF on the first three Wednesdays of every month for a quiet time to do some puja, meditation and listen to the sweet song of the Buddha’s teachings.  Then close the evening with Dharma discussion and merits dedication.  7:30pm ~ 9:00pm.

SBF  – Singapore Buddhist Federation is at 59 Geylang Lorong 24A.

The Only ‘Stupid’ Questions Are … …

I often have people asking two questions in a row, with the first one being “Ven, can I ask a stupid question?”, followed by their actual question.  Sometimes I’m like, can I say No?

I sometimes will tell people this: “The only ‘stupid’ questions are those that are not asked!” 🙂

Sometimes we really do not know enough to ask questions; other times we are unconsciously stifled by ourselves to ask questions.  We should learn more like kids.  Kids will ask anything that comes to mind.  There may be many reasons for this, and I reckon, is in part due to A) an openness of their mind to see various aspects of the subject matter and B) the absence of embarrassment of asking.

Their openness is in turn likely due to an absence of assumptions about how things should or should not be while their absence of embarrassment is due to an absence of assumption of who they are and what they should or should not know.  As kids grow up, they learn more and more about this world.  What they learn become part of their experience of how things are.  These become patterns that describes the behaviour of the world we are in.  It is this ability to retain patterns, recollect and reuse them that allow us to become wiser or intelligent about the world.  This is also what assumptions are about.

The patterns we learn about the world, which we call knowledge, becomes the assumptions we may have in predicting or anticipating a future event.  Having the ability to predict future events can be very useful, say when it comes to crossing a busy street.  We observe movements of the cars, and colors of the traffic light and we learn that cars in general follow a certain pattern in relation to the traffic lights.  These assumptions allow us to cross the streets safely but sometimes when we rely overly strongly on these assumptions, the consequences can be dire.  Assuming that cars will stop at the red light can sometimes prove to be fatal, while assuming that pedestrians will not jaywalk can be risky business.

Assumptions in general allows us to not have to overload ourselves in considering all the possibilities in our daily activities.  Some people looses this ability and live in paranoia about everything around them.  We may be onto something here, but that
is another blog entry.  When this assumption mechanism lapse into our learning process, then we loose the ability to see different facets of the subject matter.  We are conditioned by our past learnings, our knowledge, to see differently like a child.  It is not that the children are super creative or smart, it is that they are not bogged down by the assumptions (knowledge) that we have.  So, while assumptions are helpful, we got to learn to relate to them differently and put them aside where suitable.

The other side effect of assumptions is in assuming who we are.  Throughout our lives, we play many different roles; we start off as a baby, and then a child, a kid, a student, a teen, a youth, a young adult, an employee, a partner, a spouse, a parent etc etc.  Children are very good with playing make believe games and they can switch roles very easily.  I believe it is because they do not know or assume themselves to be anything, that is why they can be a fireman at one time, and then a doggie next etc etc.  Some adults are good at it too, and they play with kids very well, because they are able to immerse into the kids world and play at the kids level and not be stuck with being an adult.

Some adults however, are not able to step out of a role and switch into another one easily.  We probably have met the teacher who sees everyone as a student, the nurse / doctor who sees everyone as a patient and the gambler who sees a winning combination in any number they encounter.  As they say, to a hammer, everything is a nail! … oh, and did I mention about how to a monk, everyone is a student in need of a three hour discourse? 😉

If we can step out of our usual role, be it a parent, a manager, a teacher, a policeman, a whatever, and just not assume any role for awhile, then perhaps we won’t have the related assumptions of how we should be or should know.  If at all, we should assume the role of a child, and learn in a child-like fashion, then we would not feel embarrassed to ask questions.  For if we see ourselves as a child, we would not assume ourselves to know anything.  Then we will perhaps be able to ask questions with the openness of a child-like student.

As the Chinese word for ‘knowledge’ goes, “學問” literally means 學Learning-問Asking, so

“As we learn, we ask; and as we ask, we learn!”